Study Guide

Central Heating Quotes

  • Life, Consciousness, and Existence

    What electromagnet is still keeping me running (8)

    This line uses the metaphor of central heating to talk about a question that most humans have thought about, at one point or another: "What exactly is making my ticker tick, anyhow?" In the middle of the massive death and tragedy of World War I, the idea of life would, indeed, seem arbitrary. Even though it would be easy to attribute human life to an electromagnet, as if we were some complicated machine, we know—and we know our speaker knows—that it's not that easy. There's some sarcasm in this metaphor so watch out—our speaker may be in love, but he's not all mushy.

    A mere nothing (10)

    This line gives us a less than optimistic view of love, and, perhaps, life. Life is nothing and love is nothing, which makes it not so big a deal that the speaker's love may be taking him in the wrong direction. Yet, we can't help but think that this leap to thinking the world is nothing is a defense mechanism—a barrier against the depression and distress of this young man, what with his world being barraged by bombs and his heart barraged by uncertainty in love.

    A spark they strike only to let it go out again sometime later (11)

    Again, we get a less-than-optimistic view of life, consciousness, and existence. Someone is striking up a spark, as if they were trying to start an engine, but they just let that spark die down without a care a little while later. It's as if the speaker thinks lives just flicker on and off as determined by some arbitrary "they." As despairing as this viewpoint is, this metaphor does have a positive view—at least we are the spark, and not the darkness. Yay?

    Essentially everything visible is artificial (14)

    We can't seem to shake this dogged, despairing view. It's not fun to think of everything visible—a big part of our life, consciousness and existence—as artificial. But then again, our speaker isn't trying to write a fun poem. He's writing a poem that makes his readers question the nature of existence, just as he is. Is the world real, or is it only real inside our minds, actualized by our thoughts and the electrical impulses between our eyes and our brains? We don't know, and this poem sure isn't going to answer our questions, but if it at least complicates those questions, then it's enhanced our consciousness in some way.

    The sun and your heart are compacted of the same substance (25)

    This line stretches the boundaries of what it's possible for our physical existence to consist of. It's strange, but beautiful, to think about a human heart being made out of the same, brilliant, boiling hot substance as the sun. The sun, and the earth's perfect distance from it, are a big reason why life is possible on this planet, or so scientists say. So, the speaker is paying his lover quite a compliment when he credits her heart as being similar to the reason why we're all alive.

  • Love

    You see a tiny light coming down landing on your stomach and lighting you up (2)

    This line gives us the first mention of the "you," whom we grow to suspect is the speaker's lover as we read the poem. Yet, in a way, the word "you" incorporates us readers into the speaker's love. Maybe it's us he's in love with, after all—can you feel your cheeks getting red? Even if he doesn't mean us, we can actually see that this is a quite romantic image. Maybe the light is a metaphor for the speaker's love, as it comes down and lights his lover up.

    Short-circuit in the heart-system (6)

    Now, we get the first hint that there's something up—this isn't your average love poem, full of swooning for beautiful women. Well sure, there's plenty of swooning and beauty in this poem, but there's also a really cool metaphor running through it—the metaphor of central heating. Love, here, is mixed in with engines, and systems, and wires. Technology adds a little distance into the mix—we're not talking about kissing, and touching, but about how engines are running. Yet, instead of making us feel distanced from the love affair, it gives us a whole new way to visualize it, and think about love in general.

    My eyes and my love are both taking the same wrong road (9)

    A-ha. Here we skip from hearing about a heart, often the symbol of love and romance, to love itself. But, of course, we couldn't get something as simple as, "You're beautiful, and I love you, but I'm afraid that this love isn't going to go in the right direction." Instead, we're left to wonder exactly what this road that seems so wrong is, and how the eyes and love are connected as they take it. We don't even know if they're taking it together, or if one is straggling along behind the other, by coincidence. But the mystery in this poem gives us readers plenty of room to use our imaginations, and hey—we dig that.

    Despite the fact that I warm up wherever your hand touches me (16)

    Here, the speaker is talking about physical contact with whom we now guess to be his lover. He's pointing out that this physical contact is not an exception to the rule that he's drawn up that everything visible is artificial. Yet, the very fact that he's having to point this out as an exception means that it's nagging at the back of his mind, as if it were an unhappy toddler, whining "but, but, but." It's up to us to decide whether or not the speaker thinks something as warming as his lover's touch is truly artificial, or if that's just something he's saying to push the limits of reality.

    One night when we were unhappy we sat down together on a trunk (20)

    This line gives us an actual memory for a change, demonstrating what this love affair might be like. It's, of course, not a happy memory, but an unhappy one. Yet, the two of them are together in their misery, sitting on a trunk, keeping each other company. If this memory were perfect and happy, the poem wouldn't be as interesting as it is, or as sweet. The unhappiness in this memory makes it more relatable and real. Our speaker and his lover aren't perfect—they're real, with real dissatisfactions and troubles.

    The sun and your heart are compacted of the same substance (25)

    This line clinches the love poem aspect, which, until this moment, has seemed to be wavering between a love poem and a "I'm not sure if I love you, or even believe that you exist" poem. Though the speaker still, of course, has his doubts about whether or not this love is healthy for him, and what exactly about the world he finds to be real, he does have a lot of respect and passion for this woman.

  • Dissatisfaction

    What electromagnet is still keeping me running (8)

    So we've got, at first glance, a continuation of the central heating and technology metaphors in this poem—obviously, humans don't run on electromagnets, machines do. But what interests us, in terms of the theme of dissatisfaction, is the word "still." The use of this word makes us think that, for the speaker, it's beyond all hope that he's still alive, still working.

    My eyes and my love are both taking the same wrong road (9)

    Our poor speaker is in love, but he's not even satisfied with his love. He feels that his love and his eyes (which, we're guessing, are looking at the object of his love) are all wrong. We don't know why this is, but either way, the speaker is dissatisfied with love, one thing that, for all the pain it can cause, many people find fulfilling.

    A mere nothing (10)

    Not only does our speaker feel dissatisfied, he has an overbearing sense of nothingness. It's not a very fun thing to think of yourself, or anything you may find important as, well, nothingness. We don't exactly know what he's talking about here in particular, which adds to the sense of generalized dissatisfaction. Everything could really be merely nothing, this line leaves it open to say.

    I've had enough of the wind
    I've had enough of the sky (12-13)

    Again, we see our speaker being just plain dissatisfied. We don't know what's wrong with the wind and the sky—it's not as if our speaker has had enough of rain and clouds, which it would make sense to be sick of. No, he's sick of the wind and sky in general, including gentle breezes on warm day, and the sun poking through after storms. He's not open to happiness, and writes off the wind and sky as parts of the world he's sick of.

    The door is wide open but I refuse to enter (17)

    This line shows us that our speaker is very well aware that his problems are in his own attitude. Open doors normally symbolize good things—new opportunities, ideas, enlightenment, growth. The speaker knows that all this is available for him, but he's so dissatisfied with where he is now, and where he thinks that open door will take him, that he refuses to walk through it.

    One night when we were unhappy we sat down together on a trunk (20)

    The speaker is even unhappy when he's with his lover. Yet the funny thing is that he brings up this memory only to lead himself to the last line of this poem, which reflects on his lover quite fondly. Perhaps dissatisfaction is the speaker's preferred state. He relishes the kind of unhappiness he has when he is together with his lover, sitting on a trunk, watching the world go by with sadness in his eyes. Yeah, sounds like a blast to us, too.

  • Versions of Reality

    A spark they strike only to let it go out sometime later (11)

    This line shows the speaker's views of his life, and perhaps all reality, as transient. It's just a little flame in the darkness, insignificant, let to burn out. An interesting way that this line reflects on reality is the word "they." It's as if the power that decides when we live and die, thought by many people in the word to be one being, God, is suddenly plural, a "they." Stretch your mind and think about some great fire lighting committee that decides when we live and when we die—it's not a very heartening version of reality.

    Essentially everything visible is artificial (14)

    This line smacks "reality" on the head. Many people think that "seeing is believing," but our speaker here believes that whatever we see isn't real at all, but some artificial construct. We could view this line as stating the belief that whatever's beneath the visible is the most important, but somehow, we get the sense that it's not that optimistic. Knowing our speaker, this line is expressing his doubt in the reality of the world that surrounds him.

    Despite the fact that I warm up wherever your hand touches me (16)

    This line holds up touch—the human touch of the speaker's lover—as one of the things that is most real about the world. In this context, the speaker is denying its reality, but the details he provides as proof that the world is unreal actually have the opposite effect. They show us that the speaker doubts his own doubts about the reality of the world. So much doubt—it makes our head spin just to read about it! Now just imagine how the speaker must feel.

    I see your face but lack all faith in it (18)

    Now we can see that the speaker's doubts are ruining things for him. Here's a woman, whom we can assume from the rest of the poem that our speaker is in love with, and he sees her face. Yet because he's unsure about the reality of the world, he can't believe in her. And it's hard to love someone you can hardly believe in. There is, however, another view to take in this line. It's possible that the speaker's faith in his lover and the reality of the world has been shaken by the intensity of his passion for her. It's not possible, perhaps, for such passion to exist in the version of reality held by most people in the world.

    The sun and your heart are compacted of the same substance (25)

    This line is a great example of a Surrealist version of reality. Sure, our speaker probably doesn't think that this is literally possible, but a big part of Surrealism is using imagery that stretches the realms of the real, of the possible. When crazy, wild things can become real in words and dreams, the reality of what we see everyday fades a little.